Know What Your Stools Are Telling You About Your Health

Bowel movement is a natural process that all humans undergo to eliminate wastes from the body. While some may dismiss it as a daily inconvenience, the appearance of one’s stools can be a useful indicator of one’s gastrointestinal health. Thus, it is good to have an idea of the different kinds of stools and what they tell you about your health.

What are stools?

Faeces excreted from the body consist of undigested food, proteins, bacteria, salts, and various other chemicals from the intestines. The appearance and smell of stools differ from person to person, although there are some characteristic trends for healthy and unhealthy faeces.

  •    Healthy stools

Healthy bowel movement should be easy and painless to pass. Normal stools should be log-shaped, brown to greenish in colour, and soft to firm in consistency.

Between 3 times a week up to 3 times a day is considered a normal frequency for passing stools. As this frequency varies from person to person, anything out of one’s usual routine can be a sign of something being amiss.

  •    Hard, lumpy stools

Small, pellet-shaped stools that require straining to pass is usually an indication of constipation. Constipation can be caused by a number of issues, such as stress, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and certain medications. However, in otherwise healthy individuals, hard, lumpy stools are likely to be a consequence of a lack of fibre. This problem can be solved by increasing the intake of dietary fibre and drinking more water.

  •    Very loose stools

Formless or watery stools, otherwise known as diarrhoea, can be a symptom of various conditions, such as food poisoning and stomach flu. Prolonged diarrhoea lasting more than a few days can be a sign of more serious issues like IBS, Crohn’s disease, or celiac disease.

Aside from getting to the root cause of diarrhoea, persons suffering from it should take extra care to stay hydrated by drinking water and electrolyte drinks, to counter dehydration and malabsorption of nutrients.

  •    Strange-smelling stools

Faeces naturally smell unpleasant due to the fermentation process that occurs in the intestines. However, stools that smell exceptionally foul may signal malabsorption of nutrients, causing excessive fermentation of undigested food. This could be a warning sign for conditions such as celiac disease, bacterial infections, or food intolerances.

  •    Blood in stools

Blood in stools can appear as red or black stools. Red stools may indicate bleeding in the lower intestinal tract, or bleeding due to hemorrhoids. A less alarming cause of red-tinted stools may be coloured foods consumed recently, such as beetroot, cranberries, or tomato juice.

Similarly, black stools may indicate bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract, or be due to foods such as licorice, iron supplements, or bismuth medications. To ascertain if it is blood in your stools, first rule out the possibility of these foods being the cause of your red or black stools.

While the occurrence of hemorrhoids in Singapore is common and usually non-serious, blood in stools may signal a more serious problem that is worth a visit to your doctor sooner rather than later.

  •    Fatty, oily stools

Stools sometimes appear stinky, yellowish, and greasy due to high fat content. As a result, these oil-slicked stools tend to float rather than sink. This type of stools is a sign that the body is not absorbing fats from food properly, which may be contributed by pancreatic conditions, a gastrointestinal infection, or cystic fibrosis.

If these symptoms last for more than a few days, a visit to the doctor will be helpful to ascertain the cause of oily stools. While acute pancreatitis is usually short-lived and treatable, chronic cases cause prolonged discomfort and may increase the chances of contracting pancreatic cancer. You doctor will be able to advise you on relevant information such as options for pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer treatment in Singapore.

What should you do if you detect unusual changes in your stool?

Fleeting changes in stool appearance are normal in healthy persons, dependent on the day-to-day activities and diet of the individual. It only becomes a cause for concern when these unusual symptoms persist for more than a few days, or occurs alongside pain or other symptoms. A more urgent case is blood in stools – these should be checked out by your doctor if the bleeding lasts for more than two days without an apparent cause.

The first course of action when investigating unusual stools is to consult your doctor, who may refer you to a gastroenterologist specialist. To diagnose your condition, you may be required to provide a stool sample for clinical testing. Further examinations like an endoscopy may also be performed. After diagnosing the state of your health, the gastroenterologist can then dispense you advise for suitable treatments.

Potential Health Benefits Of Drinking Coffee For Your Liver

Our liver is vital to life and is the largest internal organ in the body. It performs many different functions for the body, including processing digested food and nutrients from the intestine, eliminating toxins from the bloodstream, and manufacturing proteins and enzymes responsible for the body’s chemical reactions. The complexity of the liver makes it susceptible to different diseases such as cirrhosis, hepatitis and fatty liver disease.

Liver disease is an important health issue; liver cancer is one of the most common cancer around the world. It is also a major cause of cancer-related deaths globally.

Benefits of consuming coffee

Studies have proven that having a cup of morning coffee might lower the risks of liver disease. Through epidemiological evidence, studies in patients who suffer from a variety of liver diseases have found that moderate coffee consumption brought a positive effect on limiting the progression rate of the disease.

In essence:

  • Moderate amounts of coffee consumption may help to lessen the risk of liver cancer, and the risk of developing liver cancer reduces as coffee consumption increases.
  • Patients with Hepatitis C who consumes more coffee, have a lower rate of disease progression as compared to those who drink lesser.
  • Drinking coffee moderately may also be related to a slower progression rate of chronic liver disease. Those who drink higher amounts of coffee were found to show a milder course of fibrosis, particularly in patients with alcohol-related liver disease.
  • Consumption of caffeine has been related to slower development of cirrhosis in patients who are scheduled to undergo liver biopsy.
  • The association between moderate consumption of coffee and a slower rate of fibrosis were also seen in patients with cirrhosis, fibrosis, Hepatitis C and non-alcohol related liver disease.

Aside from caffeine, several coffee components are also investigated for their benefits with the liver. Naturally-occurring compounds found in coffee, such as cafestol and kahweol, have revealed anti-carcinogenic properties, while caffeic acids and chlorogenic display anti-viral characteristics.

However you drink coffee, be it espresso, filtered or instant, you should keep in mind to avoid adding too much milk or sugar to prevent any other health complications. It is important to also remember that despite the fact that drinking coffee may provide benefits and reduce the risk of developing liver disease, as well as lower the progression risk for those who already suffer from some degree of liver damage.

The key messages for good liver health continue to be the same, such as reducing the amount of alcohol consumption, keeping to healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, doing regular exercises, and drinking plenty of water.

Cases of fatty liver is also on a rise among the younger population, where there is an abnormal accumulation of fats in the liver cells. It is prevalent in those with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. You can talk to a gastroenterology specialist in Singapore to address any health concerns regarding your liver.

What To Expect For An Endoscopy & How To Prepare For It

An endoscopy is a nonsurgical procedure that involves inserting a long, thin tube directly into the body, commonly through the mouth or anus, to make observations on an organ or tissue in detail. The flexible tube has a camera and light attached to it so the doctor can visually examine your digestive tract on the TV monitor.

Through the endoscopy procedure, the doctor can evaluate and diagnose certain the cause of symptoms and therefore, recommend the appropriate treatment. It can also be used to carry out treatment directly and avoid the need for further surgery.

Different types of endoscopy

Gastroenterology specialists are specialized in endoscopy and they are the ones who will perform it. It can be a useful procedure to help in a broad array of medical conditions related to all parts of the digestive tract. There are generally 2 groups of digestive endoscopies.

General endoscopy helps to evaluate most digestive symptoms and recommend treatment, including procedures like:

  • Gastroscopy: Esophagus, stomach and small intestine (duodenum)
  • Colonoscopy: Large intestine and colon

Advanced endoscopy includes more complicated endoscopy types with higher risks of complications but often help patients avoid a more invasive surgery, namely:

  • ERCP (Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangio-Pancreatography): Bile ducts and pancreatic ducts
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS): The gastrointestinal (GI) tract and neighbouring organs

When will you need an endoscopy

There are mainly three reasons when endoscopy will be recommended to you.

1. Investigate symptoms and signs

Your doctor can take a look and investigate digestive signs and symptoms like persistent abdominal pain, difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia), change of bowel habits, blood in stools and gastrointestinal bleeding.

2. Diagnose

A biopsy can be carried out using endoscopy to collect tissue samples and test for conditions and diseases such as ulcers, digestive tract bleeding, polyps or growths in the colon to prevent the development of colon cancer.

3. Treatment

It may also be used to treat problems in the digestive tract. Special tools and devices can be passed through the endoscope to remove bile stones, for example. If polyps are found in the colon, they can also be removed through endoscopy with standard polypectomy techniques. for the prevention of colon cancer development.

How to prepare for the procedure

Your doctor will share specific instructions in preparation for the endoscopy. Typically, you will need to fast for about 8 to 12 hours before the endoscopy so your stomach will be empty for the effectiveness of the procedure. Laxatives may also be taken on the previous night to clear your system for procedures investigating the gut. Remember to mention the supplements and medications you are currently taking so your doctor will advise you accordingly to stop taking or continue as per normal.

During the procedure

The procedure is usually an hour-long duration and won’t require an overnight hospital stay. A local anaesthetic is applied to numb a specific area of your body, such as the back of your throat. The endoscope will be inserted into your body openings, which depends on the examined area, i.e. throat, anus, or urethra. For insertion through the mouth, you will be asked to wear a mouth guard to protect the lips and teeth, and hold your mouth open.

You may feel some pressure during the insertion but generally, you shouldn’t feel pain. Images will be transmitted to the monitor for your doctor to view and look for abnormalities. Gentle air pressure may be added into your esophagus to allow the endoscope to move freely and examine your digestive tract easily.

A sedative will also be given to patients to help them to relax and be more comfortable, and have a good experience when going through the endoscopic examination. During the procedure, patients will not feel or remember the process but your doctor will ensure it is performed safely with adequate monitoring.

Due to the sedative, your judgement, reaction times, and memory may be impaired. Thus, arrange for someone to drive you home afterwards and plan for an additional 24 hours for the sedative effects to wear off before resuming work or other activities.

The risks and possible side effects

After endoscopy, you may experience mildly uncomfortable symptoms such as sore throat, cramping, bloating and gas. It is a relatively safe procedure with a low risk of serious complications. However, if you experience symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, vomiting blood, severe and persistent abdominal pain, it should be reported to a doctor.

Possible complications can include a minor infection in the area of investigation, persistent pain experienced in the endoscopy area, perforation (tearing) of an organ or internal bleeding.

5 Things About Colorectal Screening That You Must Know

With cases of colon cancer in Singapore on the rise, going for regular screening programs is crucial to help in an early detection of the cancer. Colon cancer, which also can be referred to as colorectal cancer, rectal cancer or bowel cancer, is the most common cancer affecting men and second most common cancer affecting women.

Stool test to look for microscopic blood, also known as FIT (fecal immunochemical test) is being used to screen for colorectal cancer nationwide. It is cheap and easily available. Singapore Cancer Society, through their cancer screening program, provides the kits free of charge. It is also available at very low cost at most family physicians’ clinic and polyclinics.

Anyone found with a positive FIT would then be advised to go for a colonoscopy. This strategy is proven to lower the cancer related death in the population. However, there are some facts that are really important to know regarding colorectal screening.

Colonoscopy Is Still Better

Each FIT only has a sensitivity of about 20-30% for detecting large polyps and about 80% for detecting colorectal cancer. In other words, if you only do FIT once, at least 7 out of 10 big polyps would not be detected and two out of ten cancer would be missed. This is is stark contrast with colonoscopy: All large polyps and colorectal cancers are expected to be diagnosed with a single colonoscopy done by a well trained gastroenterologist. The main reason preventing colonoscopy from being recommended as the main strategy is the cost involved.

Water-Assisted Colonoscopy

It is a new technique of doing colonoscopy, where water instead of air or CO2 is used to facilitate insertion of colonoscope into the colon. Water-assisted colonoscopy is more comfortable and it reduces the need for sedative medication and adds to the safety of colonoscopy.

Using Cold Snare For Polypectomy

The risk of perforation (causing a hole in the colon) reduces significantly when the gastroenterologist use cold snare to remove small polyps. This is a newer approach that is advocated by major professional bodies governing the use of colonoscopy world wide.

The Skills Of The Person Doing The Colonoscopy Matters The Most

This is highlighted repeatedly in all major guidelines governing the use of colonoscopy as a screening tool for colorectal cancer. The specialist that is trained specifically to do endoscopy including colonoscopy is called a gastroenterologist. The gastroenterologist should have a high volume of colonoscopy, a very short average cecal intubation time (<5 minutes), at least 6 minutes in withdrawal time and have at least 25% adenoma detection rate.

When Should I Go For Colorectal Screening?

For a while the recommendation is for an average risk person is to start screening at age of 50. This guideline has recently been changed in the United State and the age to start screening has been lowered to 45 because the age of onset of colorectal is decreasing over time. The recommended age to start screening is a balance between case detection and cost of screening. If cost is not an issue, screening can be done earlier. health screening is not complete without colorectal screening for most individual. For those with a higher risk of colorectal cancer, including people with family history and certain colon conditions, there should consult with doctors regarding the optimum age to begin screening.

Bloated Stomach, what to eat?

Most of us might be familiar with the feeling of a bloated stomach. It can be about of the occasional discomfort – after a heavy meal or just the case of the holiday tummy, but it can also be a sign to other belly woes. While the condition can appear alone, it is also generally associated with functional gastrointestinal disorders.

Bloating gives off a sensation that the tummy or abdomen is full, stretched and uncomfortable as it is mostly caused by air or built-up gas in the digestive system. Other accompanying symptoms to bloated stomach include abdominal pain, flatulence, constipation and diarrhoea. Those who suffer regularly from belly woes, a bloated stomach could also be related to other medical conditions like acid reflux or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

In some cases, stomach bloating can be cleared up by making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle routine. Your diet especially, plays a huge role in regulating the amount of air and poop that is trapped inside your digestive tract. Read on and try some of the best foods to help battle a bloated stomach.

  1. Probiotics

These good bacteria that is gut-friendly for your digestive tract kills off bad bacteria that can cause digestive issues and symptoms. You can consume probiotics through natural probiotic foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kefir that can boost good levels of good gut bacteria. Alternatively, you can also take probiotic supplements to improve bloating.

  1. Peppermint

Peppermint is a popular herb choice to deal with digestive issues as it offers antispasmodic and digestive properties, thanks to the active ingredients menthol and menthone. Try a cup of peppermint tea the next time you are feeling bloating. The secretion of gastric juices and bile stimulated by peppermint can help to expel gas and beat the bloat fast. 

  1. Water-rich fruits and veggies

As an effective natural remedy, they are rich in beneficial enzymes as well as water and key electrolytes.

  1. Potassium-rich foods

High sodium intake could be the culprit behind your bloated stomach. Eating potassium-rich foods can help to counter sodium’s impact for your kidneys to flush out the excess salt and maintain the overall potassium-sodium level for water balance. Excellent sources of potassium include leafy greens, legumes, bananas and avocados.

  1. Herbs, spices and teas

The power of natural digestion-soothing herbs has been known for centuries to soothe an uncomfortable tummy. In addition to its healing properties, they help to relax the muscles in the digestive tract, relieving constipation and feeling of fullness. Try eating fresh-ground herbs such as rosemary, fresh peeled ginger root, and herbal teas to promote gut health.

Seeing The Doctor For Bloated Stomach

If the mentioned suggestions do not help to ease your symptoms of bloated stomach and they persist, consult with your doctor. As there are many different factors and disorders that can cause stomach bloating, it will be good to have some tests run by a specialist so more information can be gathered to determine the underlying issue and rule out a serious condition.

Dr Chong is highly experienced in providing care for digestive and liver disorders. A physical examination and tests may be conducted for our doctors to provide the recommendations accordingly for the treatment of bloated stomach.

Book your appointment at us today.

7 Foods To Avoid If You Have IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder where one experience changes in their bowel movements with symptoms like diarrhoea, constipation and abdominal pain. The medical condition of IBS in Singapore is a common occurrence. Aside from medical intervention which is important in the treatment of IBS, certain foods can also be a trigger to their condition. To manage IBS, it is advisable to eliminate some of the common foods that are more likely to cause or worsen digestive symptoms.

Certain foods high in fibre

Increasing your intake of fibre can worsen your IBS symptoms, particularly if you have gas and diarrhoea frequently. These include nuts, whole grains, broccoli, tomatoes and cabbage. However, you can try on sources of soluble fibre in produce items like carrots, berries, apples and oatmeal, which dissolve in water.

Gluten

Commonly found in grain products, gluten is a protein that can badly affect the intestines for people who are intolerant to gluten or experience IBS. Try to eliminate rye, barley and wheat-based products like cereal, bread and pasta from your diet and observe if your gastrointestinal problems improve

Lactose

For people who have dairy intolerance, they face a digestive problem in which their body is not able to digest sugars found in milk. As such, they may experience flatulency, bloating and bouts of diarrhoea. Avoids foods like cheese, yogurt, milk and ice cream.

High-fat foods

Foods with high fat content can be harsh on the system for people with IBS, especially frying food which changes the chemical makeup of the food and makes it more difficult to digest.  Processed foods like premade frozen meals and fried foods are the common offending foods that can trigger IBS symptoms.

Sweeteners

Some types of sugar can be poorly absorbed by the bowel, which includes sorbitol and fructose. They are commonly used as a sweetener found in dietetic foods, gums, candies, corn syrup, and diet drinks. They can also be found naturally in honey and some fruits.

Caffeine

Caffeine has a stimulating effect on the intestines that can be a trigger for people with IBS and cause symptoms like diarrhoea. Chocolate snacks and caffeinated drinks like teas, coffee and soda are such examples due to their high sugar content and concentration of caffeine.

Gas Producing Foods

When you eat too much of foods that are gas-producing, this may cause increased bloating and retention of gas. Such foods include beans and other legumes like peas and lentils, onions, raisins, Brussel sprouts and cauliflower.

Seeing a Doctor for IBS

It is important to keep in mind that everyone’s food triggers and digestion will vary from one individual to another. Getting to know your own body and keeping a food diary is important to know which foods are those you will have a bad reaction to.

If your IBS symptoms still persist despite making dietary changes, it may be time to visit a doctor for IBS.

Gastroenterology Care: When To See A Digestive Specialist

Your digestive system includes the esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas and colon, which means the symptoms of gastrointestinal can be all over the map. This means some medical concerns may need more specific attention and care than your primary care doctor typically provides. Gastroenterologists have additional specialised medication training and signification experience dealing with digestive and liver disorders. Seeing a specialist in gastroenterology can leave you more assured under experienced hands during procedures and a more accurate detection of concerns like polyps and cancer.

So, when do you need to see a gastroenterologist? Here are a few signs that it is time to book an appointment.

If you are experiencing any of the following common symptoms:

  • Constipation and diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain and discomfort
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Changes in bowel habits or bowel movement urges that are difficult to control
  • Heartburn/Acid Reflux
  • Excessive gas or belching (Flatulence)
  • Stomach upset, nausea, vomiting
  • Loss of appetite or weight
  • Difficulty swallowing

Conditions under the care of a gastroenterologist include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Cancer
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (including Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease)
  • Polyps
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Ulcers

A gastroenterologist is specially trained to treat and manage disorders and diseases of the digestive tract, starting from the esophagus to the anus. Getting your symptoms looked into and treated by a specialist is the best choice to receive the most up-to-date care for digestive conditions.

Diagnosis and Screening by a Gastroenterologist 

If you are at the age 50 or above, it is recommended to see a gastroenterologist for cancer screening. You’ll also be able to determine the best schedule of screening for you depending on your potential risk factors such as family history. Even though you do not have any symptoms or suspected diseases, undergoing such tests allow cancers to be detected earlier and have a higher chance of being treated more successfully. The certainty of a cure is higher when cancers are detected at an early stage and even reduce the risk of cancer development itself.

A specialist in gastroenterology will be able to perform medical procedures like colonoscopy to investigate symptoms and detection of cancers as well as carry out a biopsy.

Mucus In Stool: What is that?

Do you know that your stomach is capable of eating itself due to the strong acid produce in your stomach? There is a thick protective mucus barrier which prevents that from happening, and without it, ulcers can form which leads to poor digestion and abdominal pain symptoms.

This jellylike substance also keeps the lining of your colon moist and lubricated. As such, experiencing a small amount of mucus in your stool is usually nothing worrying and it can appear clear, white or yellow. But when will the presence of mucus in your stool be a cause for concern?

Excess mucus in stool

The presence of large amounts of visible mucus in your stool might be a sign of a problem. Sometimes it can be accompanied by other symptoms, which could be indicative of an underlying problem that may be serious. Symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, cramping, changes in bowel movements or blood in stool can be present. You should talk to a gastroenterology specialist if you noticed an increase in the amount of mucus in stool.

Causes

Excess mucus in the stool may point towards a gastrointestinal (GI) problem. Changes in mucus level may lie in the mucosal layer in your intestines being broken down as a result of an inflammatory process. As such, mucus may be excreted with your stool. This will give pathogens inside your colon easier access to your body and increases your chance of potentially falling ill.

There are also other conditions that can be the cause of an increase in mucus levels, namely:

  • Cystic fibrosis

A genetic disorder that causes the body to produce thick, sticky mucus, causing mucus buildup in liver, lung, and intestines which leads to breathing and digestive problems.

  • Crohn’s disease

An inflammatory bowel disease affecting the GI tract with symptoms like diarrhoea or fatigue.

  • Ulcerative colitis

Similar to Crohn’s disease, this inflammatory bowel disease affects the large intestine or colon with symptoms such as blood-stained mucus or stools containing mucus during bowel movements.

  • Intestinal infection

Infection from bacteria or food-borne GI illnesses can also lead to mucus in the stool, such as salmonella, which develops from consuming contaminated water or food.

  • Irritable bowel syndrome

It is a common disorder that affects the normal function of the large intestine, and can increase the amount of mucus that appears in stool.

  • Malabsorption issues

There is a number of different disorders that can result in malabsorption issues, which is when the intestines are unable to absorb or digest certain essential nutrients. Some conditions related to malabsorption are chronic pancreatitis, certain cardiovascular problems and celiac disease.

  • Colon cancer

Also known as bowel cancer or rectal cancer, it begins at the rectum with symptoms including constipation, persistent diarrhoea or abdominal pain.

How to treat it

To treat the excess mucus, the doctor will need to diagnose and treat the underlying problems. Tests can be carried out including stool culture, colonoscopy, endoscopy and pelvic MRI scan to reach a diagnosis. Depending on the cause, lifestyle changes, prescription medications, surgical procedures or a combination of them will be necessary to help relieve or resolve the issue.

If you have recently been sick or taken antibiotics, you might also notice a change in your stool mucus levels. Seek medical attention from a gastroenterologist specialist if it persists after a few weeks and there are other symptoms of a GI problem.

Where Is Your Abdominal Pain Located And What Does It Mean

Abdominal pain is generally used to describe discomfort that originates from organs within the abdominal cavity, which includes the stomach, liver, small intestine, colon and gallbladder. The pain can be acute or chronic, and can be felt anywhere from below the ribs to the pelvis. It also ranges in intensity from a mild tummy ache to severe acute pain.

Where is the pain located?

Knowing the location of your abdominal pain is key to a proper diagnosis. It can be helpful in narrowing down what is the cause of the pain and any other symptoms that you are experiencing.

  • Upper right abdomen: Hepatitis, liver abscess, kidney stones, pancreatitis, gallbladder disease
  • Upper left abdomen: Gastritis, peptic ulcer, enlarged spleen, kidney stones, hepatitis
  • Lower right abdomen: Appendicitis, kidney stones, right ovary problems, Crohn’s disease
  • Lower left abdomen: Diverticulitis, kidney stones, ovarian cysts, ovarian torsion

In some cases, the abdominal pain you experience may not only occur on one side of your abdomen. If your upper abdomen is causing pain on both sides, it could be stomach issues such as gastritis, pancreatitis and stomach ulcers. For pain in the lower abdomen on both sides, it could be urinary tract infections, uterine fibroids or gynecologic problems.

Abdominal pain can have many potential causes, with some directly linked to the abdomen and others by a non-abdominal disease. When you visit a doctor for abdominal pain, they will ask a variety of questions and examine you carefully, and arrange for tests if necessary.

What are the characteristics of the pain?

Is the pain worse and aggravated by coughing, sneezing or any jarring motions? Does the pain last for no more than several hours or longer than a day? Is the pain sharp, dull, steady, constant or is it intermittent?

Aside from knowing the location of the pain, understanding other factors such as when does the pain occur and how long does it last, will be helpful for your doctor to gain a better understanding on your condition.

There may also be accompanying symptoms like flatulence, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion, heartburn and pelvic discomfort.

How is the cause diagnosed?

Doctors will check on the physical signs, characteristic and accompanying systems and conduct a physical examination to pinpoint the source of the pain. This can include pressing different parts of the abdomen for tenderness, a rectal exam, and a pelvic exam.

Other tests may be ordered by the doctor if necessary, including ultrasound, X-ray, CT scan and endoscopy to help diagnose different conditions and diseases. When results are available, the doctor will discuss them with the patient as well as the appropriate treatment following the diagnosis.

How Your Pancreas Is Being Affected By Excessive Drinking

Alcohol abuse is commonly associated with liver problems because the liver is the organ mainly responsible for metabolising alcohol in the body. When there is excessive alcohol intake, the liver is unable to keep up with processing of the alcohol and causes it to remain in the body. The more alcohol is consumed, the greater the risk of damage to the liver. These damages can occur in the form of fatty liver, alcohol hepatitis, and cirrhosis.

However, it is less common knowledge that heavy alcohol use also affects the pancreas. In the US, some statistics put the proportion of pancreatitis sufferers who are also heavy alcohol users at 70%. It is well established in the medical field that there is a link between excessive alcohol intake and pancreatic-related health conditions.

Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is a condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed. It is one of the main pancreatic illnesses that alcohol abuse is associated with. The inflammation of the organ impacts the metabolic functions of the pancreas, which cause further health complications. Clinical records put men in their 40s with a history of heavy alcohol consumption as at highest risk of being diagnosed with pancreatitis.

Although researchers have not confirmed the exact mechanism by which alcohol affects the pancreas, one theory postulates that alcohol induces digestive enzymes to flow back into the pancreas instead of being released into the intestines. As a result, the enzymes attack the pancreas cells themselves. Another theory proposed that alcohol incites a backflow of bile, thus damaging the pancreas.

Pancreatitis occurs in two forms: acute pancreatitis and chronic pancreatitis. While both are inflammations to the pancreas, they differ in the duration and severity of the conditions.

  •    Acute pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is a short-term and sudden inflammation of the pancreas. Symptoms include abdominal pain near the back behind the ribs, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Symptoms usually only last a few days, and most patients recover quickly without major complications. However, in rare cases, it can also become fatal. Severe cases of acute pancreatitis can also cause further complications like internal bleeding, irreparable tissue damage, infection, formation of cysts, and damage to other organs.

While most cases of acute pancreatitis usually resolve quickly without leaving lasting damages, continued excessive drinking can cause repeated bouts of acute pancreatitis. Recurring acute pancreatitis can then evolve into a chronic condition of the inflammation of the pancreas.

  •    Chronic pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis occurs when there is long-term inflammation of the pancreas, which usually happens only after periods of acute pancreatitis. At this stage, the damage to the pancreas is irreparable, and symptoms are experienced on a long-term basis. Symptoms include recurring pain near the back behind the ribs, weight loss, greasy stools, and jaundice. Chronic pancreatitis typically does not heal, but only gets worse gradually.

While chronic pancreatitis is usually not immediately life-threatening, it can lead to further health complications. For example, the loss of function in the pancreas leads to digestion problems and diabetes.

Complications arising from pancreatitis

  •    Diabetes

Chronic pancreatitis can lead to diabetes because the pancreas can no longer function to produce insulin. About one-third of chronic pancreatitis patients develop diabetes later in life. The onset of diabetes for pancreatitis patients usually occurs only years after the diagnosis of pancreatitis.

  •    Pseudocysts

Chronic pancreatitis can also lead to the growth of cysts or pseudocysts. These growths are fluid-filled sacs that form on the surface of the pancreas. They are formed by localised masses of dead tissue and old blood. Some cases of pseudocysts do not show symptoms, however, some patients report bloating, indigestion, and abdominal pain resulting from these cysts.

Pancreatic cysts may cause infections to the pancreas and nearby organs. In some cases, the cyst may be cancerous or pre-cancerous, developing into malignant tumours later on.

  •    Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is when a tumour grows on a part of the pancreas, thus affecting the function of the pancreas. Studies show a link between heavy alcohol usage and pancreatic cancer, and between those with a history of pancreatitis and those who develop the cancer. One pathway for this development is the cysts that form as a complication in chronic pancreatitis.

How can you guard yourself against pancreatic conditions?

Pancreatic conditions are potentially very painful and costly illnesses. Not only might you have to deal with the substantial pancreatic cancer treatment cost, but you will also have to suffer in your quality of life. It will be worth it to reduce your likelihood of developing these pancreatic conditions and complications by regulating your alcohol intake.

Even if you have been diagnosed with acute pancreatitis before, you can lower your chances of suffering from acute pancreatitis again and from developing the chronic condition by keeping a low rate of alcohol intake and a low-fat diet. For those currently battling pancreatitis, abstinence from alcohol will help to reduce pain and allow your pancreas to heal.

If you are a heavy alcohol user, you should consider taking measures to regulate your drinking habits. To find out more about the risks of alcohol drinking to your pancreas health, consult a gastroenterology specialist today.